It is hard to imagine that the author would not know that his novel was to be judged not only by the novel 'Bridge Over The River Kwai,' Pierre Boulle's work, more well known as the movie with starring Sir Alec Guinness, but would be put to the test against arguably one of the greatest novels ever written, Nevil Shute's 'A Town Like Alice." Both of these fine novels dramatically describe the horrors of war in Burma during World War II and the atrocities the Japanese soldiers brought upon the Australian and British. "Alice" is also a romance, encompassing the love that can be brought about due to unforeseen happenings in times of war.
And so 'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' bravely rears its head in to the same realm. Highly descriptive in its passages regarding not just the building of the railroad, yes the same one written about by Boulle, but also in its flights of fantasy and love as our protagonist Dorrigo Evans, an Australian surgeon beds his uncle's young wife and then saves as many men as possible from the scourge of forced labor on the railroad construction.
Unfortunately Evans does not have the same panache as his predecessors in the literature I mentioned previously, and his sordid affair is nothing that he can write home about, so the story, while if you had never read the other more worthy works, would stand alone as a well thought out story of the consequences of war, in fact pales in comparison. Flanagan has written a novel worth the read, one that covers a lot of ground but one that has already been well documented.